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DUCATI 450R/T DESMO (1971)


Ducati sprung to life by making a small bicycle engine to transport the war-ravaged Italian citizens. In 1946, the Cucciolo (little puppy) engine was originally sold in a box to be attached to a bicycle. Before WWII, Ducati had produced radio tubes and condensers, but thanks to the Cucciolo’s success, Ducati became a name brand motorcycle manufacturer. By 1954, Ducati was producing 120 bikes a day. Even more momentous in ’54 was the arrival of engineer Fabio Taglioni. Taglioni’s big idea was to control valve float by having the valves positively opened and closed without using valve springs. The main benefit of his desmodromic system was the prevention of valve float. Valve float can cause a catastrophic collision between the piston and valve or, at the very least, create poor valve seal. The desmodromic system eliminates valve float by using dual rocker arms on each valve (one for opening and one for closing the valve). The Ducati 450 R/T was the first and only motocross bike to be outfitted with desmodromic valves.

In 1969 a 350cc Desmo Ducati actually won the Baja 500 piloted by desert ace Doug McClure. Following this success, U.S. importer Berliner Motor Corporation requested a off-road 450cc version of the 350 TSS being sold in Europe to compete against the popular BSA 441 Victor. The 450 R/T (road/trail), as it was called, was built exclusively for the American market and was finished in brite yellow.

Though the engine was quite powerful, the frame was heavy and rigid. The frame would also prove to be poorly designed as the engine was placed too far rearward and coupled with a very short swingarm, the Ducati was difficult to turn. By 1971, four-strokes had fallen out of favor with most off-road riders and the 450 R/T would only be imported into America in that year.

Images are property of The Early Years of Motocross Museum, ®2006